Monday, April 28, 2008

The Big Trip: Wellington

I always say, “Serendipity follows me around like a little dog – I just never know when it’s going to bite!”

Wellington is a perfect case in point.

Even though it is the capital of New Zealand, Wellington seemed like it would be a good place to check out NZ flora and fauna since it is home to the world’s first urban wildlife refuge, the Karori Sanctuary.

Our coach tour took us through Wellington’s CBD, past the Beehive (where the Prime Minister and her members of the government have their offices), and up the steep hills into the suburbs. On the way into the sanctuary, I noticed a little green car in the visitors’ parking lot that was plastered with rainbow stickers, including one for Palm Springs, which I took as a good omen.

Before exiting the bus our tour guide pointed out that the Karori folks would be splitting our group into three sections, each to be led through the sanctuary by a trained volunteer. Considering we were sitting with a bunch of yakkity old ladies (and it was the yakking, not that they were old ladies) I thought to myself “so long as we’re in a different group we’ll be fine.”

Then I set eyes on one of the tour guides. He looked sort of like Frodo’s grandfather. Short, slender, balding pate, white fringe, in his 60s, vivid blue eyes, big silver earring, a cute little jade necklace, and a gorgeous pewter bracelet.

“We want to go with HIM,” I whispered to Naoyuki and promptly steered him in that direction.

It took us all of 15 seconds to look each other up and down and have him say, “Are you a couple?” in that marvelous Kiwi lilt. We allowed that we were indeed and he extended his hand saying, “Well, then, welcome to the club!”

His name was Des and he was the perfect tour guide, extremely knowledgeable with respect to both the flora and the fauna, especially the birds. And Naoyuki, of course, is pretty much the perfect eco-tourist, given his botanophilia.

Eventually, after Des had run us and the other members of the group up and down and all around (in other words, completely ragged, considering the steepness of the terrain), he asked if Naoyuki and I would like to go home with him to meet his partner and another couple who were coming down for lunch.

We were delighted by the invitation, of course, and perfectly happy to accept it (and how many places in the world would that be true?) We stopped by another nature preserve on our way to Des and John’s home in the suburb of Ngaio, way up the hill overlooking Wellington.

John, Des’ partner of 20 something years, is 78 to Des’ 68 years old. Widowed, John has two grown daughters who live nearby with their young children live nearby. They're perfectly accepting of Des as their father’s partner and fellow co-grandparent. Des built their house and the steeply sloping lot represents nearly 30 years worth of gardening work on his part.

Over lunch we learned that Des and John were key players in helping secure passage of New Zealand’s Civil Union legislation a few years ago, so much so they were granted Civil Union License 001 and were the first couple in Wellington to have a Civil Union ceremony (in the mayor’s chambers, no less, with a brass band a parade following them to their reception.)

At one point I said, “Oh my gosh! I remember reading about the two of you! I thought ‘Joliff’ (John’s surname) sounded familiar!”

After lunch, the straight neighbor couple (whose names completely elude me) headed home and John and Des took us for a quick tour of town, including a quick visit to the Lady Norwood Rose Garden (sneaky John found us a couple of adorable little NZ bird pins while Naoyuki was drooling over the gigantic begonias in the conservatory) and then a drive through the entertainment district (Courtenay Place) before taking us back to the port and the ship.

Quite the loveliest day of our (totally splendid) cruise!

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